La «Trumpisation» de Sarkozy

Le parti Les Républicains est en campagne pour désigner son candidat à l’élection présidentielle française de 2017. Parmi les candidats, il y a l’ex-Président de la République, Nicolas Sarkozy. Un Nicolas Sarkozy qui depuis plusieurs semaines, a « trumpisé » (si l’Académie Française de la Langue me permet d’inventer ce terme) son discours.»,  Par là j’entends que Nicolas Sarkozy s’est rapproché fortement dans son discours du show man américain, et s’éloigne ainsi de plus en plus du prototype d’homme politique européen traditionnel.

Je veux bien préciser qu’il faut se méfier des comparaisons à la légère. Il y a des nettes différences entre Trump et Sarkozy. Sarkozy a déjà été chef d’État ; Trump est un homme d’affaires. Le discours de Trump est tout de même bien plus exagéré, mensonger que celui de Sarkozy. Trump est une anomalie politique et il faut le traiter comme tel. Néanmoins, il y a lieu de faire certaines comparaisons. Notamment dans certaines des idées, dans les formes et dans le discours. En effet, j’ai retrouvé dans une série de déclarations de Nicolas Sarkozy tout au long du mois de septembre, des phrases frappantes, dignes du candidat américain.

Il y a tout d’abord eu la négation du changement climatique. Trump flirte avec les théories de la conspiration : pour lui, le changement climatique est une invention de la Chine. Sarkozy a lui déclaré que l’homme n’est pas totalement responsable du changement climatique. Des déclarations surprenantes qui vont contre l’avis de scientifiques et experts et dans un pays qui a tout de même accueilli la conférence mondiale COP21 il y a quelques mois.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy dans une image d’archives

Par après, Sarkozy a déclenché un débat politique en disant qu’à partir du moment que l’on acquiert la nationalité, « on vit comme un français et nos ancêtres sont les Gaulois ». Nouveau point commun avec Donald Trump : l’appropriation sélective de certaines racines ethniques et sa revendication face à l’étranger. Trump parle de l’orgueil américain face aux étrangers, en omettant que les États-Unis est un pays formé et issu de l’immigration (Trump est d’ailleurs d’origine allemande). Dans le cas de Sarkozy, nous sommes aussi face à un discours erroné. Le choix des Gaulois n’est pas incorrect, mais bien arbitraire, car la France compte bien d’autres peuples qui ont habité son territoire. De plus, d’un point de vue historique, la France actuelle a été bien plus influencée par l’Empire Romain que par les Gaulois. L’objectif est donc clair : dans une société inquiète par l’immigration et où le racisme monte, jouer la carte ethnique et donc l’identification a un symbole national porte gros.

La comparaison la plus fragrante entre Trump et Sarkozy m’est venue à l’esprit en lisant une déclaration de ce dernier dans un meeting à Calais. Dans une de ses multiples bravades, Trump a un jour dit qu’il commencerait à expulser des personnes en situation illégale aux États-Unis dès le premier jour de son mandat. Sarkozy déclara il y a deux semaines, à deux pas de la fameuse jungle où 9000 personnes vivent dans l’insalubrité: « Le problème de la jungle sera résolu avant l’été 2017 », laissant sous-entendre qu’il s’y attaquerait dès le premier jour de son mandat. Mot pour mot.

Un jour après, des étudiants gabonais ont interrompu un meeting pour protester sur la situation dans leur pays. Sarkozy leur a sèchement répondu : « Ici c’est la France, c’est pas le Gabon. Si vous voulez retourner au Gabon, allez-y ! » Il y a quelques semaines aux États-Unis, le Vice-Président Joe Biden, se faisait constamment interrompre dans un meeting de campagne en faveur de Hillary Clinton par un vétéran qui lui criait que ses amis étaient morts en Irak. Biden, dans la douleur, lui répondit que son fils aussi était mort. Il lui pria de lui laisser finir et de venir en reparler avec lui à la fin du meeting. Ce qu’il fit. Trump au contraire a multiplié les phrases violentes chaque fois que quelqu’un protestait à un de ces meetings : « I’d like to punch him in the face », « Get him out of here… Are you from Mexico? », « Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you on court ».

Il eut un temps, où il aurait été diplomatique de la part d’un homme politique européen de répondre qu’il se pencherait sur le sujet, signe d’intérêt pour les relations internationales. Dans le discours de Sarkozy, le « Tout pour la France » et sur la France prime. Un recours à la politique identitaire et réactionnaire, qui éclipse d’autres sujets bien plus importants et qui jouent sur les tensions déjà existantes et exacerbées. Le discours raciste est d’ailleurs de plus en plus assimilé, au point qu’il est vu comme acceptable politiquement que les étudiants gabonais aient été remballés avec une phrase ouvertement raciste : « Si vous voulez retourner au Gabon, allez-y ! ».

Je pourrais écrire également sur l’islamophobie des deux candidats, mais ceci n’est pas un sujet qui touche uniquement à ces deux hommes, mais bien une vague d’intolérance qui touche beaucoup de pays et de sociétés. Par conséquent, il mérite mention dans ce billet, mais devra être développé autre part dans le futur.

Pourquoi ai-je inventé le mot « Trumpisation » en me référant à Sarkozy? Car Donald Trump est probablement l’expression la plus visible de l’antipolitique et de l’intolérance au niveau mondial actuellement. Mais en  réalité, son discours ne fait que d’un avec celui des partis d’extrême-droite européens. Il y a tout de même quelque chose qui distingue Trump des hommes politiques comme Wilders, Farage ou Le Pen. Trump est rentré sans complexes en politique américaine et sans aucune pression. Cela lui a permis de repousser les lignes du politiquement acceptable très loin, car il n’avait rien à perdre. Et c’est sur ces lignes repoussées au niveau mondial que l’extrême-droite européenne joue aujourd’hui.

Il est donc inquiétant qu’un ex-chef d’État comme Nicolas Sarkozy joue sur cette vague identitaire d’extrême-droite pour obtenir des votes. Ses défenseurs argumentent que de cette façon il dispute le vote au Front National. Cela peut être effectif à court terme électoralement, mais très dangereux au long terme politiquement. La droite française, mais encore plus important, la société française en entier, ont besoin que ses candidats à l’élection présidentielle soient des hommes intégrateurs, ouverts, inclusifs et à la hauteur du monde en 2017. La France a suffisamment à faire avec le repli identitaire et raciste du Front National et de Marine Le Pen. Elle ne peut accepter la version délavée de Nicolas Sarkozy dans Les Républicains.

© Mario Cuenda García

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Has the EU successfully promoted democracy in its neighbourhood?

There is a long-running debate in the European Union (EU) over where should the final borders be set and by default, there is controversy over neighbours. The question is which countries are considered potential entrants and which ones permanent neighbours. All the neighbouring countries present a fair lack of democratic governance and it is in the EU’s interest to promote democracy and stability in the neighbourhood. It proved in the past that it could do so, but can it successfully promote democracy in its neighbourhood now? To answer this question, this essay will categorise as neighbours the countries which have no accession prospections. Neither the Balkans nor Turkey are considered neighbouring countries. Russia is deliberately excluded, because of the EU special relationship program. Thus, the following countries fell into the neighbourhood category: Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. This essay will argue that the European Union has not yet successfully promoted democracy in its neighbourhood. It will analyse EU policies towards the neighbourhood: firstly, the European Neighbourhood Policy, followed by the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Eastern Partnership. Subsequently, it will present a series of case studies and examples. It will analyse the Ukrainian case study and will briefly explain the situation in the Eastern states. Then, it will analyse Egypt and the particular case of the 2006 Palestinian election. Finally, this essay will conclude that the EU fails to promote democracy in the neighbourhood due to structural imbalances which do not allow it to be successful.

The most important and ambitious policy towards the neighbourhood is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which was launched in 2003. In 2004, the EU would have had borders with Russia and Ukraine and the possibility of Turkey joining the EU was also real at that moment; it would have expanded borders even further until Syria and Iraq. Hence, the ENP was a policydesigned to achieve stability, security and prosperity in the neighbourhood as a way to minimise risks and instability across flowing across EU’s border’.There was a high degree of self-interest on the part of the European Union: Romano Prodi, the ex-President of the Commission talked of ‘creating a ring of friends’. The ENP wanted to avoid exclusionary feelings within the new neighbours but ironically, it defined de facto permanent non-members, which did not please all the participants. Therefore, the EU offered deeper political and economic integration to these states, for example through Association Agreements, in exchange of democratic reforms and moves towards a market economy. As several EU officials expressed, the long-term idea was to share ‘everything but institutions’ with neighbouring countries. When it was launched, the ENP had the potential for being an attractive policy framework; the structure used was practically the same than for the 2004 enlargement processes. This is considered the most successful EU foreign policy ever, and it was thought that the ENP could achieve similar results. Unfortunately, the ENP contains structural deficiencies which prevent its success and its ability to promote democracy in its neighbourhood. Firstly, it lacks strategic finality. The objectives proposed are vague and the final objectives of the policies are not clearly stated; it affects its credibility in the neighbourhood. Secondly, it uses an inappropriate ‘one-fits-all’ approach: Eastern and Mediterranean states are fundamentally different, for example when it comes to their accession prospects. Thirdly, the EU does not use strong conditionality incentives. Not offering the prospect of membership, for instance, weakens enormously EU’s attractiveness. Fourthly, the EU focus much more on stability than democracy. The neighbouring countries feel that as long as they maintain stability, they will not be bothered on political matters. Overall, the ENP has failed to fulfil its main objectives. Richard Whitman and Stefan Wolff even argue that the ENP has failed in minimising risks of instability in the neighbourhood.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) are the two other relevant policies. The EMP was a partnership between the EU and the Mediterranean states signed in Barcelona in 1995. It ‘aimed at the promotion of stability, economic integration and cultural dialogue across the two sides of the Mediterranean’. The idea was to turn the Mediterranean into a shared geopolitical, strategic and economic space, based on three pillars: political and security cooperation, economic and financial partnership, and the enhancement of social and cultural ties. Once again, the EU did not mention democracy promotion as a principal objective and like the ENP, the EMP had also serious institutional imbalances. Firstly, the Mediterranean states which signed the Partnership, as mentioned by Hollis, ‘were not well placed to form a common market among themselves.’ Secondly, the EU did not remove tariffs on important goods for the Mediterranean states, neither did it allowed free movements of people. Finally, the EMP was reformulated in 2008 into the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The idea was to ‘bring together all the Mediterranean coastal states to revitalise and strengthen cooperation across the Mediterranean’. There are two arguments on why neither the EMP nor the UfM successfully promoted democracy in the Mediterranean basin. First, the EU thinks that the promotion of economic development will eventually lead to democratisation. This is a problematic thinking: it relies on a strong liberal assumption which has yet to be proven. Moreover, dictatorships can retain much power even with a liberal economy. Second, the EU has always been reluctant to push for democracy in the Mediterranean. Long before the eruption of the ‘Arab Spring’, EU officials felt that if they pushed for regime changes in the area, their likely replacements could threaten European stability in its borders; it indeed proved right.

The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009. It looked for a more specialised approach towards the Eastern neighbourhood and it targeted Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The European Union understood that post-Soviet states which could still be under the sphere of influence of Russia needed a special policy. The EU had three major interests in creating the EaP. First, it allows it to deal with the special cases of Ukraine and Moldova, which have clearly stated their accession aspirations. Secondly, it needs good relations with the Caucasian republics which are important providers of EU energy, especially Azerbaijan. Thirdly, as Michalski contends, the EU has ‘an interest in encouraging a strengthening of the ties among EaP countries themselves both to deal with the EU as a group and to improve stability and economic and social development in the region’. The EaP, like the two previous policies, fells short in democratising the Eastern state and it has faced criticisms from the neighbouring and participating countries. Firstly, the participant countries have different visions of the EaP: Armenia and Azerbaijan, which do not want to join the EU are satisfied with its proposals, while Ukraine and Moldova are not. Secondly, it is a policy which focuses mainly on the governments and does not focus enough on democratic groups which already exist in the neighbouring countries. Thirdly, and this is characteristic to Eastern states, the EaP offers materially no perspectives for conflicts resolutions. Except Belarus, all the countries are entrenched in conflicts. Some are frozen, like the Transnitrian question in Moldova and some are quite recent, like the low intensity warfare in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Unfortunately then, as Nielsen and Vilson write, ‘all the partner countries remain fragile, undemocratic, economically underperforming, torn by frozen conflicts or all four at once’.

This essay’s first case study is Ukraine, which is the most populous country in the Eastern Neighbourhood. Even though it is more democratic than most of the participants in the ENP and the Eastern Partnership, Ukraine scores poorly in democracy and transparency rankings and there is still a strong economic oligarchy. Together with Moldova and Georgia, Ukraine has clearly stated its aspirations to join the EU. However, the EU is reluctant to accord membership perspectives. In fact, neither the ENP nor the Eastern Partnership offer such possibility. Nonetheless, Ukrainian officials considered the ENP as a springboard for membership. Ukraine is definitely one of the most active participants in the ENP, in spite of some significant domestic resistance. Even though the political elite has declared support for Ukraine’s integration with the EU, it has contributed little to advancing it beyond declarations. On the other hand, the EU has not yet successfully promoted democracy in Ukraine. However, it has made positive steps. It offers credible rewards in order to bring about domestic reforms, even though it does not want to use the accession incentive. The EU knows the political and economic class accept reforms as long as they fit their interests. Hence, it should pressure for these reforms to happen. However, these positive steps are somehow overshadowed by EU decisions itself. For instance, the EU postponed ratification of the Association Agreement signed in 2012 and Ukrainian officials hinted it might be due to some European countries not wanting closer links to Ukraine; it was signed, the Netherlands decided in a referendum in 2016 not to ratify it.  The lack of a unified position inside the EU puts a brake to any policy targeting the neighbourhood. Moreover, there is yet another reason why Europe does not successfully promote democracy in Ukraine. The European Union has mainly commercial interests with Ukraine; it exports more to Ukraine than it imports. It has signed free trade, financial and modernisation agreements relying again on the liberal assumption that liberalisation will bring democracy. So far, the reality is that while commercial agreements are signed, democracy has yet to come.

The remaining states of the Eastern Partnership look no brighter than Ukraine. Moldova is in a similar situation than Ukraine; Belarus is still a dictatorship and the EU does not want to give legitimacy to its executive power by interacting with him openly; Azerbaijan has severe democratic deficiencies, but it is also the largest EU trading partner in the region which means that little pressure is put over its government; Armenia is historically closer to Russia; finally, Georgia is an instable republic with two de facto independent regions. Overall, as mentioned previously, the Caucasian states are all entrenched in conflicts. Armenia and Azerbaijan fight over Nagorno-Karabakh. Possibly, if the EU was a strong actor capable of resolving these conflicts, it could gain significant leverage to promote democracy in these states. Today, pressure remains insignificant and little real progress has been achieved towards democratisation and respect for human rights.

It is important to note two main differences between the Eastern states and the Mediterranean states. Firstly, the EU has had diplomatic relations with Mediterranean countries long before that with the Eastern states. Therefore, Arab regimes have been indirectly legitimised by the EU for years. Secondly, since 2011 the Arab countries have experimented the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, a series of protests and revolutions which have brought significant regime changes in several countries and to which European policies have had to adapt. The most interesting case study in the Mediterranean basin is Egypt. As Ukraine with the Eastern neighbourhood, Egypt is the most populated country in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it historically exerts an influence on the rest of Arab countries. Egypt was governed since 1981 by Hosni Mubarak, a dictator with whom the EU worked closely for the sake of security and stability. The EU never pressured the Egyptian government even though there were strong evidences of serious human rights abuses. The EU even withdrew funds allocated to civil society organisations over accusations of the Egyptian government that the money could be used for terrorist purposes. On the other hand, the EU heavily funded the dictatorial government in its anti-terrorism plans. Therefore, it is fair to argue that the EU has not promoted democracy in Egypt. In fact, democratisation came from the Egyptian population itself, with the ‘Arab Spring’. The EU indeed welcomed the first free elections, but was not really pleased with the victory of Mr. Mursi, from the Muslim Brotherhood. When he was overthrown in a bloody coup d’état by the Army, putting an end to the ephemeral democracy, the EU protested slightly but nonetheless legitimised General Al-Sisi as the new Chief of State by continuing the diplomatic relations. Another interesting cases study is the 2006 Palestinian elections won by Hamas. The elections were supervised by the EU and acknowledged to be fair and free; nevertheless, the EU froze help funds to Palestine, because Hamas was outlawed as a terrorist organisation. This gave a huge blow to the EU credibility in Palestine and in the Arab world because the action was interpreted by Palestinian and Arab observers as a sign of the EU ignoring the democratic expression of the Palestinian people. The contradiction was far too evident: the EU did not accept the legitimate victory of Hamas in a democratic election but it financially supported the Egyptian dictatorship.

This essay contends that the EU genuinely believes in democracy. The EU itself is an organisation composed of 28 functioning democracies and it has proven in the past that it can successfully export its example of democratic governance: it did so with the 2004 enlargement, but also with Portugal, Greece and Spain previously. However, despite a reasonable amount of good will and successful previous examples, the EU has failed in successfully promoting democracy in its neighbourhood so far. There are four main reasons. Firstly, the policies targeting the neighbourhood are inefficient. The ENP, the EMP and the EaP are structurally defective policies with important flaws. Most importantly, none of them makes democracy a main objective. It could be argued that even though the policies do not mention democracy promotion, they offer the necessary set of political and economic policies to democratise the neighbourhood. However, this assumes that democracy follows economic liberalisation, an assumption yet to be proven. Secondly, these policies are fundamentally state-oriented. The state is fundamental in transitions to democracy but historical precedents show that non-state actors are generally the ones which push for democratisation. A famous example is the Polish trade Union Solidarność in Communist Poland. By leaving these actors out of their structures, the EU does not bring real democratisation prospects to the neighbouring states. Thirdly, the EU fails in promoting democracy because it lacks a true common policy towards its neighbours. The ENP, the EMP and the EaP are attempts to harmonise such differences but they do not erase it. It is obvious that Mediterranean states have a stronger interest in its Southern neighbours while the European Eastern states have an interest in looking eastward. Until the EU do not tackle this issue, foreign policy measures will be weak, and so will be democracy promotion. Fourthly, the EU does not successfully promote democracy simply because it is subject to geopolitics contradictions. It knows that in some states where there democratic culture is lacking, it is extremely costly and long to promote a stable democracy: transitions to democracy are costly and painful, both for the country experimenting it and for the EU. Hence, a dictatorial state with a strongman can be a better short-term solution and it is not in the EU interest to remove an ‘ally’ which guarantees stability and security in its neighbourhood.

To summarise, the EU has developed several policies to deal with its neighbouring countries, but none of them has successfully promoted democracy. The ENP is the most ambitious one: it deals both with the Mediterranean and the Eastern states. It aims to bring stability and prosperity to the neighbouring states but it has important flaws which impede its success. Firstly, an inappropriate one-fits-all approach; secondly, a lack of strategic finality and thirdly, a lack of differentiation. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Eastern Partnership tackle the differentiation problem, but they also present defects. The EU has low credibility in the Mediterranean because it has always maintained friendly relations with the dictatorships. Moreover, the EU wrongly assumes that economic liberalisation will bring democracy. With respect to the Eastern States, it aims to create a special framework for Moldova and Ukraine and to secure a stable zone between Russia and the EU. The case studies given by this essay have looked at concrete examples. On the Eastern part, Ukraine, which is an active participant in EU programs, has nonetheless failed consistently in consolidating a stable democracy. On the Mediterranean, the EU maintained a friendly relationship with the Egyptian dictator Mubarak, generously funding his government but on the other hand it cut funding to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas won a democratic election. Finally, this essay presented four reasons to sustain its claims that the EU fails to promote democracy. Firstly, the policies targeting the neighbourhood are structurally inefficient. Secondly, they focus too much on governments, leaving aside important non-state actors. Thirdly, the EU lacks a real common vision when it comes to foreign policy in the neighbourhood. Fourthly and lastly, having relations with dictatorships sometimes fits the EU geopolitical interests, when these guarantee stability and security in the neighbourhood, offering no incentive to change. In conclusion, the European Union has failed to promoted democracy in its neighbourhood so far due to structural mistakes that can nonetheless be improved in the future. Promoting democracy is a long term process. The EU might be unsuccessful in the short term, but this does not mean it cannot revert this path in the future.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website academia.edu:

 

https://www.academia.edu/28245471/Has_the_EU_successfully_promoted_democracy_in_its_neighbourhood

© Mario Cuenda García

What might alternative social movements learn from the Zapatistas about transforming social relations?

The first of January 1994 marked the start of the free-trade agreement NAFTA between the US, Canada and Mexico. This very same day a group of armed indigenous peasants emerged from a rainforest occupying villages and cities in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. They called themselves Zapatistas. For many observers, they first looked like another mainstream Latin American revolutionary group; indeed, they were immediately attacked by the Mexican Army. However, the rebels managed to get incredible popular support, until the Mexican Government had to call for a cease-fire over popular protests. These rebel indigenous peasants were so interesting and sympathetic to public opinion because they were a radically different revolutionary group: they changed their demands, their communication strategy and their organisation. Some of the Zapatista’ features can be applied to anti-capitalist struggle all over the world. Hence, this essay will address the question of what might alternative social movements learn from the Zapatistas about transforming social relations. The structure of the essay will be the following. It will first quickly introduce some background explanation, to understand the origins of the Zapatista uprising. Subsequently, in a different paragraph each time, it will explain five features of the Zapatista movement. The first paragraph will look at the relationship between power and the state. The second one will be about discourse. The third will analyse their social organisation. The fourth one will talk about inclusiveness. The fifth and last one will be about the role of women in their society. In the last paragraph, this essay will explain how these features can be turned into lessons for alternative social movements. Finally, the essay will conclude that the five main features presented here are also five lessons that alternative social movements can and should learn if they want to transform social relations.

The Zapatista uprising occurred in the State of Chiapas, which is an agricultural and mostly indigenous state in South-West Mexico. The indigenous population descends from the Mayas and is generally composed of land workers. There are also ladinos, who are Mexicans who descend from Europeans who used to be landowners.In 1994, Mexico was a corrupt semi-democracy under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party since 1929; the institutions in Chiapas were corrupt and heavily militarised. The Institutional Revolutionary Party had promoted a series land reforms throughout the 20th century which had important social and political implications for the Zapatista uprising of 1994.The evolution of the land reform process was the following: before the 1970s, land reforms promoted by the Mexican State were mainly redistributive. In 1970s, the redistribution promoted by the state bureaucracy started to slow down, sparking protests in Chiapas. This was followed by neo-liberal reforms in the 1980s which reverted the redistributive path, making land access even more difficult to poor people. Tired of this, the people of Chiapas decided to recover their lands by force, making land a central claim for Zapatistas. This essay will deliberately not touch the important topic of land because in Western alternative social movements, claims for land are generally not a central demand. However, alternative movements should note that men and women need a material basis to survive. In the case of Chiapas, it was land. In developed societies it could be guaranteed work or perhaps, a Universal Basic Income. Those are questions to be explored more in depth when furthering in the Zapatista influence over alternative social movements. The following paragraphs of this essay will now outline the most interesting features of the Zapatista uprising.

Firstly, the Zapatistas correctly identified one of the major neo-liberal forces: the state. Historically, liberalism has always considered the state as a negative actor, but in the 1980s there was a shift in neo-liberal ideology: in economically weak countries like Mexico, the state needed to be a strong actor to enforce the law. Hence, the state became an important actor of the neoliberal forces. The Zapatistas understood this and in opposition to 20th century left-wing Latin American guerrillas, such as the FARC or the Cuban revolutionaries, which wanted to win state power, the Zapatistas renounced to this objective. In fact, when the Mexican government announced a cease-fire and proposed negotiations, they collaborated and exposed their demands. The Zapatistas did not want to win state power because they understood that the state was so embedded in the emerging neo-liberal global structure, that winning it did not mean the possibility of achieving significant change. The Zapatista revolution was thus destined to be radically different:  a revolution without seizing state power. They created their own structures of government, such as the Juntas del Buen Gobierno. Using Olin Wright’s rhetoric, the Zapatistas achieved an interstitial transformation and proved that important achievements can be accomplished at the margin of the state.  Hence, the Zapatistas understood an important characteristic of the modern nation-state: winning ‘the state’ does not mean winning power. Alternative social movements should be aware of this observation and understand that winning the state should no longer be the only and principal objective. The Zapatistas also proved that social relations can be transformed at the margin of the state. Therefore, social movements should aim to build alternatives outside its boundaries. This observation proved to be accurate when the left-wing party SYRIZA gained state power in Greece in January 2015. It appeared to many observers that the problems of the country were going to be solved, but embedded in the nets of international finance and the European Union, the state failed to find a solution.

Secondly, the Zapatistas achieved a significant change in discourse. Throughout the 20th century, revolutionary groups or communists parties used traditional Marxist and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, with terms such as ‘vanguard’, ‘proletariat’ or ‘class struggle’. The Zapatistas overcame this traditional discourse and used an alternative language to promote their own revolution. With a strong emphasis on the term ‘dignity’ as the central claim, they built an alternative rhetoric to the traditional Marxist one and most importantly, a rhetoric which undermined the legitimacy of the Mexican state. They used broader terms along with ‘dignity’, such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Through the use of communiqués, full of poetry and traditional histories, they promoted an immense sympathy for their cause. Furthermore, there is a confrontation between a culture of ‘talking’ by Marxist-Leninists and the Zapatistas, who want to inculcate a culture of ‘listening’. The Zapatistas were not talkers, they were listeners and by listening they learned to think ideas in a different way. In fact, alternative social movements have already started to use Zapatista rhetoric.  In 2013, more than two million people marched to Madrid, in a movement called “Marches for dignity” (“Marchas de la dignidad”). They shouted “Pan, Trabajo, Dignidad” (“Bread, Jobs and Dignity”) instead of “Pan, Tierra, Trabajo” (“Bread, Jobs and Land”), the classic Leninist chant. Thus, alternative social movements should note that Marxist and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric are completely obsolete and marginal in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the Zapatistas proved that the use of an appropriate language to transmit a message is crucial. Alternative social movements should develop a language which mobilises people.

Thirdly, the Zapatistas developed a new social organisation. They came from an indigenous background, where the feeling of community was strong and deeply embedded. Thus, there was a sense of collective responsibility when it came to taking decisions. Everyone had the right to participate in the decision-making process and ‘all important decisions were discussed by the whole community to the point where a consensus was reached’. The Zapatistas organised assemblies and forums to discuss, where everyone was allowed to participate, rejecting any form of centralist organisation. Back in 1994 they obviously had leaders like Comandante Marcos; but they were just an expression of popular will, who represented the larger community. They were always subject to the decisions taken by the assemblies and they were immediately recallable if they did not satisfy the community. They called this radically democratic decision-making procedure mandar obedeciendo (‘ruling by obeying’). This decision-making procedure also acknowledged that there was not a single ‘grand’ vision driving this revolution. The Zapatistas believed that they could only go forward through a process of collective questioning and debating. They would listen to all opinions, debate them and only if a consensus was reached, would the decision be adopted. The Zapatistas did not invent this radical vision of democracy and decision-making through assemblies, but their example was especially successful and has often been replicated. In 2013, in the State of Michoacán, also in Mexico, citizens decided to defend themselves without help from the army against the drug cartels. They called themselves Autodefensas and all decisions were taken collectively in squares. In Europe, the Spanish 15-M movement which emerged in 2011, took all its decisions through assemblies in squares; the Nuit Debout movement currently happening in France, also takes all its decisions in assemblies where 4/5 of approval is needed. Organising through assemblies empowers people who were voiceless before and it gives the genuine possibility of taking decisions collectively instead of letting the decision-making in the hands of a few ones.

The fourth feature of interest is Zapatista’s ‘transversal nature’. The Zapatistas were ‘transversal because their demands were not only valid for Chiapas, but for many social change actors around the world. It is true that they called themselves Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and at first sight, they could look like a National Liberation Army, which always has strong nationalist components and claims of independence. Even though the Zapatistas were fiercely nationalistic, constantly mentioning Zapata, the Mexican revolution and using the Mexican flag, their movement was not merely a Chiapas-based autonomist or indigenous movement. There are two main arguments to sustain the claim that they were a transversal force. Firstly, they were an inclusive and open force; they invited diverse actors to interact with them in the negotiations and since the beginning, they were open to suggestions and propositions from different external actors. Secondly, some of their demands were universal, demands to which everybody could subscribe. For instance, their demands for indigenous rights where echoed by different indigenous groups in Mexico but also in South America. Furthermore, their demands of justice, democracy and freedom were demands that could be echoed by all the people of the world. The Zapatistas understood that in order to be effective, they needed to mobilise national and international support. Furthermore, solidarity is not sufficient to successfully transform social relations: there need to be active participation from many fronts at the same time.

The fifth and last feature social movements should learn from the Zapatistas is the role of women in the Zapatista uprising. It is not widely mentioned, which can give the misled idea that the Zapatista uprising was mostly a men-lead movement. This is not true. In fact, some of the Zapatista leaders were women: Comandante Ana María was responsible of occupying San Cristóbal in 1994 and one of the first laws drafted by the Zapatistas was the Revolutionary Women’s Law. The Zapatistas encouraged the political participation of peasant women and their rebellion against their subordinate position in society.  Thus, they empowered them by supporting their struggle for emancipation. Since then, indigenous peasant women from Chiapas have become increasingly empowered, and have begun to participate in the struggle for gender rights. Furthermore, as Mercedes Olivera writes, ‘the gender specific advances that have been achieved have been made by women for themselves’. Probably the most important achievement of empowering peasant women and introducing them into the EZLN was the legitimisation of female participation in politics. It is interesting to note that the Zapatista influence not only achieved more female participation in Zapatista communities. They have also improved it on non-Zapatista’ ones. Since then, in Chiapas, it not uncommon to see women, both in Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas areas occupying positions of power. Obviously, in Western societies, women have more rights than women had in rural Chiapas. However, it is the idea behind the inclusion of women that we should retain. The Zapatistas included a marginal actor in their structure and empowered them; alternative social movement in the West should also include marginal actors and empower them.

The Zapatistas opened a whole new spectre of possibilities to achieve significant changes in social relations. The five main features of Zapatismo this essay has explained can be extrapolated to many other anti-capitalist struggles around the world. Firstly, transforming social relations can and should be done at the margin of the state, because the state itself is now part of the problem. Secondly, language is fundamental to transforming social relations. Old Marxist rhetoric is no longer attractive, thus alternative social movements should work on an alternative mobilising language. Thirdly, transforming social relations implies transforming the decision-making procedure: social movements should organise themselves in assemblies. As previously mentioned, this is a way of organisation which offers an enormous amount of participation and empowerment to people. It allows to take decisions collectively, attending to the needs of everybody and it avoids power concentration. Fourthly, alternative social movements should be transversal and inclusive. Small and inward-looking movements are totally ineffective in bringing changes. Alternative social movements should include the most progressive actors possible and the most progressive demands. And it should be done in collaboration and solidarity with other movements. Fifth and lastly, social relations will only be transformed when all elements of society are included in such transformation. The Zapatistas included women; in the rest of societies, other marginal actors should be included in the force wishing to transform social relations.

To summarise, the Zapatista uprising occurred in the region of Chiapas, a region where there had been historical disputes over land. The Zapatistas presented five interesting features which can be learnt by alternative social movements to transform social relations. First of all, the Zapatistas understood that the state was no longer an actor of change, but another neoliberal actor. As such, any transformation should be done at the margin of the state. Secondly, they understood that Marxist and Marxist-Leninist language was obsolete. Therefore, they used an alternative one which granted them worldwide support and sympathy. Thirdly, their decision-making procedure was collective, through assemblies. This empowered people and avoided abuses of power. Fourthly, they were a transversal force. This means that they were open to many different actors and that they demands were not exclusive for themselves, but that everybody around the world could subscribe. Fifthly and finally, they included women in politics in a macho society, showing that transformation can only be achieved when all the marginal actors participate in the transformation process. In conclusion, these five features explained throughout the essay are also lessons that alternative social movements should and can learn from them if they wish to transform social relations.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website academia.edu:

https://www.academia.edu/26836592/What_might_alternative_social_movements_learn_from_the_Zapatistas_about_transforming_social_relations

© Mario Cuenda García

Brexit: lessons for the future

Britain has decided to leave. I am sad, slightly shocked and worried. This is a huge blow to European integration, probably the biggest setback in 60 years of European project. I would like to write about the causes of this result, but also its consequences and the lessons we can learn from it.

Let’s be clear: the European Union is a positive project with plenty of benefits, but it is also is an imperfect construction full of mistakes which still needs reform. Among its problems, it faces a democratic deficit and an excessively liberal structure which privileges financial interests over citizens’ concerns. As such, we cannot remain uncritical about this EU; more and more people are asking the correct questions but unfortunately, many are not giving the rights answers. Brexit is probably the worst one so far.

Yes, the EU has its part of responsibility. But do not fool yourself, the results of the referendum have little to do with a rational criticism of the EU and its policies. There are the consequence of two factors which have been visible in the last years. Firstly, the rise of the nationalist, xenophobic and reactionary far-right which disguises its true ideology behind a well-calculated Euroscepticism. Secondly, the passivity of national governments, which have desisted in their defence of EU and even worse, allowed it to be used as a scapegoat to avoid responsibilities for policies taken at home. This is especially true in the UK, paradoxically the less integrated country of the EU. It is undeniable that David Cameron was comfortable with the social anger targeting the EU instead of the British government and that he even encouraged this attitude.

The referendum itself was not a mistake, but there was no need of convoking it. As The Economist writes, “Back in 2013, the public opinion was not clamouring for it”. It was a short-term gamble to silence noisy Eurosceptic backbenchers and to maintain the unity of the Conservative party. It was an irresponsible electoral move thought on party terms, not national. Three years later, the country experiences its worse political instability ever and David Cameron resigns with leaves a disastrous legacy.

The campaign and the results

Then came the campaign. The ‘Remain’ side was poorly led. David Cameron was overconfident in his convincing capacities and he wrongly thought that his February deal with the EU would suffice to convince undecided voters. He is not an Europeist and he was uncomfortable defending a position which was unnatural to him. He campaigned for the EU because he knew that the alternative was worse. In consequence, the arguments were more about the catastrophic consequences of leaving than about the positive effects of remaining. Thus, the ‘Remain’ campaign had absolutely no capacity of illusion: it relied too much on the politics of fear. Jeremy Corbyn was not very active in the ‘Remain’ campaign either, but he is not to blame: the ‘in or out’ debate was nothing but a civil war within the Conservative Party which spread to national and European politics. No wonder that he did not want to be stuck in it. On the other hand, the ‘Leave’ campaign was even worse. It was full of lies and contradictions. The Brexiteers, especially Nigel Farage, dragged the debate into the recurrent topic of immigration, until it became the core of the campaign, eclipsing all other considerations. As Owen Jones wrote, the campaign focused on immigration as if “migrants and people fleeing violence and poverty were the cause of the multiple problems afflicting European society, from the lack of secure jobs and houses to stagnating living standards to public services ravaged by cuts”. Unfortunately, this xenophobic and nationalist campaign won. Traditionally working classes worried about immigration, ended up voting ‘Leave’, proving that nothing had been done to counteract the dominant and false argument on immigration.

The results are worrying in many ways. Look at the politicians who have celebrated the outcome of the referendum: Marine le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Matteo Savini and so on. It is a victory for scaremongers, bigots and xenophobes. Furthermore, the statistics of the referendum project the image of a truly ‘Broken Britain’ (how ironic…) with four major cleavages. First, an impressive generational one. Second, a cleavage between nations. Third, one between educated and less educated people. Fourth, one between well-off and less well-off people. It would be easy to blame the uneducated poor for this result, but the causes are far more profound. Look for the reasons in the rising inequalities provoked by liberal and austerity policies, which have left many people impoverished, disenchanted with politics and felt abandoned by a political class which does not look for their interests.  

european stars

Europe is crying

The consequences for the UK

The list of consequences is too long for this post, but I would highlight one word: uncertainty. The short-run economic effect will be affected by this completely new situation. Understandably, firms will delay investments and important decisions until the new status of the UK is agreed with the EU. Once the agreement comes into force, firms might fly and relocate elsewhere in Europe. This will likely throw the UK into a recession and hurt employment numbers. The British Union is likely to suffer: Scotland will push for independence and Northern Ireland might push for reunification. Universities are also big losers. EU students wanting to study in the UK will now probably rethink their choice until the uncertainty dissipates: this means less talent and less money will come to the UK. Diversity on campuses will diminish. British students will lose access to the Erasmus program which allows them to study abroad in Europe. Overall and without getting into details, it will become harder for everyone to work or study in the UK until the uncertainty dissipates. The same applies to Britons in the EU. The long-run forecast is more difficult. As EU trade treaties will not apply anymore once it leaves, Britain will have to renegotiate all of them. Eventually, the economy will stabilise and recover, but it will lose attractiveness. Foreign investors, start-ups, young talents and so on see the UK as a fantastic place to invest or set up partly because it is part of the EU. With this door closed, they will look for alternatives in the continent. Many will leave and many more will just not come in the first place.

The relationship between the UK and the EU

Now here comes the crux of the matter. The Treaty on the European Union contemplates exits in its Article 50. The procedure is the following: the UK has to notify the European Council its desire to leave. Then, the UK and the European Council negotiate an ‘exit agreement’. Once it is reached, the European Parliament has to approve it by a qualified majority. Then, ‘The Treaties cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement’. There is a very important point here: the European Council negotiates the new situation with the UK as an outside actor, not a member of the Council anymore. Whatever the final agreement is, the UK is not in a position of strength and stands to lose. If it wants to remain part of the internal market, as many ‘Leave’ supporters argued, it will have to accept European standards, allow free movement of people and contribute to the European budget, like Norway does. The Article 50 is not the only possible outcome; other agreements can be reached. However, if the EU wants to be credible, it must strictly stick to the Treaty provisions. Any concession will undermine its legitimacy, create a dangerous precedent and give wings to Eurosceptic forces around the continent to further disintegrate the union. Sadly, the first divisions are already arising. Several finance Ministers, François Hollande, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schultz have asked the UK to start the procedure as soon as possible, saying it won’t be an amicable divorce. On the other hand, Merkel says there is no need to be nasty on the UK, opening the door for a more favourable agreement. This is dangerous for the whole Union (I will develop the possible outcomes and the relationship-in another post).

The consequences for the EU

They are contradictory. For instance, Brexit could actually be positive. The British conception of the EU as a big economic market has done much harm to European integration. The UK has constantly slowed down European initiatives, filibustered many actions that could have led to a closer union and has an important part of responsibility in the frustration created by this EU. Many pro-European actors will be happy to see such a burden leave. But as I mentioned in the introduction, it is also the biggest setback in European history. For the first time, a member state leaves the European project and menaces to trigger a dangerous domino effect. The Austrian election was already a worrying sign. If Britain reaches a successful deal with the EU, nationalist parties in the EU will probably push for the same, endangering the whole project. Hopefully, this could be the major catharsis the EU needs to reform. Unfortunately, none of the actual national leaders has the European vision to lead a major reform project. A truly and rare European actor is Guy Verhofstadt. Unfortunately, he is in a weak position (he is just an MEP) and he is alone. Some of his policy proposals are right, but I believe the EU has to take a more social turn, not a liberal one.

What the EU must do is to stand up with courage for its core values, to take a battery of measures and to set a grand project for the next years. First, it has to stand up against right-wing nationalism. This means opening borders for refugees, equally redistribute them in European countries and fight the anti-immigration discourse. The measures that could be taken to relaunch the morose European integration include: enhancing transparency, public inversion in transport infrastructures, the end of unnecessary austerity policies, restructuration of the Greek debt, redefinition of the ECB status, dropping the unpopular TTIP negotiations and many more. My idea for a grand project which could reconcile the EU with its disenchanted citizens would be fighting fiscal evasions and tax heavens. It is politically feasible, economically positive and it will show that the EU is effective in tackling today’s world problems and that it works for its citizens.

I will end up on a positive note. It has been said that our generation is disenchanted with the European project. That we take everything for granted and that we do not value what has been achieved. Yet, on the 23rd of June, more than 65% of people aged between 18 and 24 voted ‘Remain’. This does not mean that they agree on everything with the EU, as I do not, but it genuinely acknowledges that the European project is right and that the future of the people of Europe is together. The creation of a truly European youth is succeeding. These voices may have been silenced today, but they will come back stronger. I have no absolutely no doubt that the UK will, as an equal partner, be part of the EU once again in the future. We will welcome them with our arms opened to continue the construction of this outstanding project: the European Union.

© Mario Cuenda García

You’ll Never Walk Alone

No, no voy a hablar de la final de la Europa League, pero sí del Liverpool. Hoy me apetece contar una historia que ha sacudido las últimas décadas en el Reino Unido y en la cual las mentiras y la injusticia han prevalecido durante mucho tiempo. Voy a hablar de la tragedia de Hillsborough, acaecida en 1989 y en la cual 96 aficionados del Liverpool perdieron la vida. Hace un mes se emitió una sentencia histórica que puso punto y final a una injusticia larga de 27 años. Me gustaría dedicar este post a los 96 aficionados fallecidos en la tragedia de Hillsborough en 1989 y a sus familiares.

El 15 de abril de 1989, el Liverpool se desplazaba a la ciudad de Sheffield para disputar la semifinal de la FA Cup contra el Nottigham Forest en el estadio de Hillsborough. Era un estadio pequeño, con gradas sin asientos y enormes vallas que separaban el público del campo pero a la vez dividían las gradas en diferentes secciones muy estrechas. La entrada al estadio se hacía por un único acceso con solamente siete torniquetes para miles de personas, y a continuación, por un túnel estrecho que daba directamente a las gradas. Era, en definitiva, una enorme ratonera con grandes fallas de seguridad.

La grada asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool. Fuente: The Guardian

La grada asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool. Fuente: The Guardian

Aquel 15 de abril, los torniquetes fueron incapaces de procesar el número de personas que quisieron entrar en el estadio. Aunque los aficionados llegaron mucho antes del inicio del partido, se formaron colas delante de los torniquetes que al poco tiempo derivaron en una masa de gente bloqueando la estrecha entrada. No había forma matemática que miles de aficionados pudiesen pasar por los siete torniquetes en menos de una hora. Así, que diez minutos antes de comenzar el encuentro, el jefe de policía dio orden de abrir las puertas de salida para que los aficionados entrasen sin pasar por los torniquetes. Miles de aficionados se adentraron por las puertas y a continuación por el estrecho túnel. Nada más empezar el partido, se pudo ver en directo como la parte asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool desbordaba de gente. Literalmente. La cantidad de gente detrás de la portería era mareante. Los aficionados se veían aplastados los unos con los otros, frente a la valla protectora. La gente desesperada, empezó a saltar las vallas y a ser rescatada por los aficionados de la grada superior. Durante seis eternos minutos, el partido se jugó y la policía no intervino. Cuando lo hizo, abriendo las puertas para que los aficionados pudiesen escapar al cuentagotas, era ya demasiado tarde. Los cuerpos sin vida de 96 personas se amontonaban contra la valla protectora, asfixiadas por una avalancha humana.

La grada de los aficionados del Liverpool el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

La grada de los aficionados del Liverpool el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Aficionados rescatando a otros el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Aficionados rescatando a otros el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Murieron hombres y mujeres, adultos y niños, padres e hijos, parejas y hermanos. Aficionados que fueron a disfrutar de un partido de fútbol de su equipo preferido y jamás volvieron a casa. Hillsborough es la mayor tragedia del fútbol inglés en toda su historia. ¿Cómo es posible que miles de aficionados se viesen atrapados de esa forma en semejante ratonera sabiendo que además ya hubo un incidente similar con varios heridos en ese mismo estadio en 1981? Las ambulancias tardaron en llegar, los agentes de policía se vieron desbordados y en ningún momento se declaró la situación de emergencia. Inmediatamente se abrieron investigaciones para encontrar responsables. Y desde el primer momento, la dinámica de la investigación fue clara: responsabilizar a los aficionados del Liverpool de la tragedia.

Ya en directo, pues el partido estaba siendo televisado, el jefe de la policía mintió a la prensa que cubría el partido al filtrar que la causa de los problemas en la grada del Liverpool se debía a que aficionados sin tickets habían forzado una puerta de salida. Era una mentira enorme: fue él mismo quien ordenó la apertura de las puertas para que entrasen los aficionados del Liverpool. Esto fue el pistoletazo de salida de una campaña de demonización y de encubrimiento. La investigación se convirtió en un escándalo de proporciones enormes, en la cual las familias de las víctimas tuvieron que soportar 27 años de humillación, indignación e injusticia.

Poco a poco, se fue construyendo un mito según el cual los aficionados del Liverpool fueron los únicos culpables del desastre. La policía y la prensa enfatizaron el supuesto rol del alcohol en crear la tragedia. Se escribió que fueron unos aficionados borrachos como cubas quienes forzaron la puerta de salida y provocaron la muerte de 96 personas en la estampida. A los pocos días del desastre, el panfleto The Sun, publicó una portada titulada The Truth (la verdad) dónde acusaban de forma falaz y rastrera a los aficionados de abominaciones. Mientras los aficionados todavía en shock velaban a sus fallecidos, The Sun escribió que los fans del Liverpool habían robado a los muertos, meado sobre los cadáveres y agredido a policías haciendo el boca a boca. Eran unas acusaciones falsas, una tentativa de demonización sin precedente y sin vergüenza alguna, en un panfleto de tirada nacional, cuyo único objetivo era desacreditar a los aficionados del Liverpool y presentarlos como gentuza sin escrúpulo alguno. Obviamente, todo era mentira, pero el daño estaba hecho. Desde entonces, es imposible encontrar The Sun en los alrededores de Anfield Road, el estadio del Liverpool. Es boicoteado y vetado a conciencia por los aficionados del Liverpool.

La portada de The Sun. Fuente: The Sun

La portada de The Sun. Fuente: The Sun

Las mentiras del Sun fueron la cara más repugnante y visible de la campaña de deshumanización de las víctimas y de los aficionados del Liverpool pero no fue ni de lejos la única. La otra cara fue la institucional. La policía analizó las tasas de alcohol en sangre de todos los aficionados fallecidos (¡incluidos niños de 10 años!), que luego fueron publicadas en la prensa. Recientemente, la investigación sacó a la luz que también se buscaron los posibles antecedentes criminales de los aficionados fallecidos. ¿Qué tendría que ver un antecedente criminal en la muerte de una persona en una avalancha humana? Absolutamente nada. Pero criminalizando a las víctimas, haciéndoles pasar por borrachos y delincuentes y filtrando esa información a la prensa, se podía conseguir de forma mucho más efectiva que la culpa recayese sobre ellos y no sobre los verdaderos responsables.

Aun así, los informes oficiales sobre la tragedia reconocieron serias deficiencias de seguridad pero durante largos años se consideró que no había pruebas suficientes para inculpar a nadie por negligencias u homicidios involuntarios. Así, durante años, no se cuestionó en justicia la seguridad del estadio ni el papel de la policía. El mito de que los aficionados del Liverpool eran los máximos responsables del desastre quedó grabado a fuego en la conciencia colectiva.

Sin embargo, el trabajo incansable de las familias de las víctimas ha permitido que se haga justicia. Se incluyó en la investigación el hecho de que el Jefe de Policía a cargo del estadio durante casi 30 años había sido cesado 20 días antes del accidente y sustituido por un policía inexperimentado. Pero lo que realmente fue un punto de inflexión en la investigación de la tragedia fue cuando hace unos años salieron a la luz nuevas pruebas que demostraban que los testimonios de la policía habían sido falsificados. Muchos agentes habían detallado en sus informes los déficits del dispositivo de seguridad pero todas las partes negativas de sus testimonios habían sido borradas o recortadas por sus superiores. En definitiva, los responsables policiales trucaron la investigación al falsificar testimonios y omitieron pruebas que les inculpaban. Incurrieron en delitos de falsificación y omisión de pruebas, rehuyendo así responsabilidades para que recayesen todas sobre los aficionados del Liverpool. Poco a poco, la justicia fue reuniendo pruebas que demostraban que los verdaderos culpables de la tragedia no habían sido los aficionados. Reconociendo que hubo deficiencias graves en la seguridad del estadio y en los servicios de emergencia la justicia dictaminó que los responsables del desastre habían sido la policía y de la seguridad del estadio.

El encubrimiento policial fue muy burdo, pero persistió por mucho tiempo porque tampoco hubo interés por parte de la justicia, la clase política o la prensa por investigar o cuestionar la versión oficial. Fueron la prensa y los políticos quienes durante años sustentaron el mito según el cual los aficionados del Liverpool eran los únicos culpables del desastre dando pie a campañas de demonización de los propios aficionados.

La historia de Hillsborough no se puede entender sin explicar el contexto de los años 1980 en el Reino Unido. No es ninguna casualidad que la versión prevaleciente durante muchos años demonizase a los aficionados del Liverpool. Peor aún, no es casualidad que la versión calase y que no fuese cuestionada por la sociedad o las altas esferas del estado. Lo explica muy bien Owen Jones en su libro ‘Chavs: la demonización de la clase obrera’. Los años 1980 se caracterizaron por la destrucción de la cultura ‘obrera’ existente en el Reino Unido en la cual se demonizó a los trabajadores como catetos, brutos, borrachos, aprovechados… Poco a poco, se fue legitimando un discurso en el cual martirizar a las clases trabajadoras era aceptable, un discurso en el que el ensañamiento contra los obreros estaba permitido. De esa forma, las medidas neo-liberales aplicadas Margaret Thatcher, que se caracterizaban por un individualismo feroz y una falta de solidaridad total, podían aplicarse justificándose en el discurso anti-obrero. Fomentando una visión de la vida en el que para triunfar había que salir más allá de la vida obrera, el pensamiento dominante de la creciente clase alta era el siguiente: ‘yo no voy a pagar tantos impuestos para sustentar estos obreros que no han querido ganarse la vida de forma digna’. Este el ambiente en el que se llegó a Hillsborough. Y una vez acaecida la tragedia, la maquinaria difamatoria se disparó. Los aficionados del Liverpool eran obreros, unos catetos que ni siquiera hablan inglés correctamente, unos borrachos y unos brutos. En el mejor de los casos, unos idiotas que habían provocado la tragedia; en el peor de los casos, unos desalmados que cometieron todas las atrocidades redactadas por The Sun.

Por ello, la sentencia de hace unas semanas es histórica. Se depuraron responsabilidades legales de forma directa y se destruyó el discurso ideológico dominante durante tres décadas. La pregunta siete del auto rezaba así: “¿Tuvieron algo que ver los aficionados del Liverpool en el desastre?” Ante las lágrimas de los familiares emocionados, el jurado popular respondió: ‘No’. El resto de las respuestas confirmó lo que ya se sabía: la tragedia fue un homicidio involuntario e imprudente de la policía y los medios de seguridad del estadio. 27 años después, al fin, se demostró que la tragedia se pudo haber evitado. Es cierto que la estrategia de demonización a corto plazo fue efectiva y que todavía persisten sus coletazos; pero hoy la justicia prevalece y empieza a derrotar a la mentira. Lentamente, el discurso dominante forjado por el neoliberalismo se resquebraja; esta sentencia representa una derrota. Por ello, hay que darle la importancia que requiere y no se puede dejar que Hillsborough, lo que vino después y esta sentencia pasen al olvido como una historia cualquiera.

Acabaré este post mencionando uno de los momentos más emocionantes de estos 27 años. En el vigésimo aniversario de la tragedia, se celebró una ceremonia de conmemoración en Anfield Road, el estadio del Liverpool. El ministro de Deportes en ese momento, Andy Burnham, dio un discurso en el que dijo: “Hoy en día, podemos decir que nunca olvidaremos a estos aficionados”. Desde la grada, alguien gritó: ‘¡Justice!’ Y a continuación, las 40 000 personas que abarrotaban el estadio se pusieron de pie gritando: ‘¡Justice for the 96!’ Ya llegó la justicia. At last.

Homenaje 25 años después de la tragedia. Fuente: The Telegraph

Homenaje 25 años después de la tragedia. Fuente: The Telegraph

P.D.: Por respeto a las víctimas no he querido subir ninguna foto impactante sobre la tragedia, pero se pueden encontrar fácilmente en Internet. En Youtube se puede ver un fantástico documental de dos horas de la BBC que explica la tragedia y recoge testimonios de familiares y víctimas. Se llama Hillsborough y lo recomiendo con fervor. Para profundizar en mi argumento sobre la demonización de los aficionados, recomiendo el libro Chavs de Owen Jones.

© Mario Cuenda García

Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia

El pasado jueves, en el marco de los VII Encuentros de Yuste sobre la Transición Española a la democracia, organizados por la Fundación Yuste en un marco incomparable como es el monasterio de Yuste en el norte de Extremadura (en el cual vivió el emperador Carlos V los últimos meses de su vida), los participantes al encuentro tuvimos la oportunidad de escuchar y conocer a Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia.

Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia es actualmente el presidente de la Unión Romaní Española y tiene el honor de haber sido el primer diputado de etnia gitana de la democracia española. Fue elegido diputado en los tiempos convulsos de la Transición y también fue diputado en el Parlamento Europeo. A lo largo de su vida, ha sido un político activista y reivindicativo y ha defendido los derechos del pueblo gitano tanto en España como en Europa, obteniendo avances significativos en contra de la discriminación de la etnia romaní.

Cabe recordar que la discriminación en contra de la etnia gitana sigue ampliamente expandida en nuestra sociedad. Discriminación lingüística en España (recomiendo enfervorecidamente el  vídeo”#YoNoSoyTrapacero”), deportaciones en Francia, discriminación estatal en Hungría… Estos son solo unos pocos ejemplos que demuestra que aún nos quedan muchos pasos para lograr el fin de la discriminación contra esta minoría histórica. Acabar con ella es un trabajo que nos corresponde a todos.

Fue un placer escucharlo y un auténtico honor conocerlo. He de admitir que en mí ha dejado huella. Dijo Bertold Brecht:

“Hay hombres que luchan un día y son buenos. Hay otros que luchan un año y son mejores. Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida, esos son los imprescindibles.”

Juan de Dios es de los imprescindibles.

Juan de Dios y yo mismo

Juan de Dios y yo mismo

© Mario Cuenda García

Why Owenite communities were destined to fail

Robert Owen, a British Industrialist in the XIX century is considered to be the father of socialism in Britain. A philanthropist, he developed a series of ideas which have been labelled as ‘Utopian Socialism’ and he distinguished himself by revolutionising the social organisation of a community of mills he owned in Scotland. His example inspired a series of identical communities which one after another disappeared at different points in time. Nonetheless, questions and debates around his figure and his ideas are still actual. Can he be labelled as a socialist or a communist? Were his communities the first cooperatives? The debate which will be assessed in this essay looks at the following question: were Owenite communities destined to fail? My answer is that these communities were indeed destined to fail. It seems easy and uncontroversial to say this in the XXI century, knowing that they indeed failed, but there is not much focus in literature on why they were set to fail. To support my answer, the essay will be structured in the following way. Firstly, I will analyse Robert Owen’s social views. Secondly, I will examine his political thoughts. Thirdly, I will look at what he did in New Lanark and during his campaigns. Finally, I will expose my arguments on why the Owenite Communities were set to fail, relying in three main arguments.

I make an explicit difference between Robert Owen’s social and political views because he was without a doubt a social visionary, but he could be described as a political traditionalist. Owen’s social thoughts challenged the major beliefs of his time. In the early XIX century in Britain, the bourgeoisie argued that poverty was inevitable if progress was to be achieved. Furthermore, poor people were responsible for their fate. Owen denied all of this: he believed society should provide means to the poor to develop themselves. He was probably one of the first thinkers to argue for a kind of societal intervention to alleviate poverty. Gregory Claeys, a political scientist, named Owen’s doctrine ‘philosophical necesitarianism’. The core belief of this doctrine was that individuals were not fully responsible for their ideas and actions; rather, these were instead determined by the society they lived in. Hence, people’s bad behaviours which included cruelty and selfishness were ultimately influenced by the environment that surrounded them. Hence society should be drastically changed to create the ‘New Society’. If people changed their behaviours from cruelty and selfishness to kindness and sympathy, this would progressively change society until the New Society is created. This is a rather utopic view, which later on gave his ideas the name of ‘Utopian Socialism’.  Finally, Robert Owen thought that the impulse of this ‘New Society’ should come ‘from above’. This means that either a rich philanthropist like him or the state, should re-organise society to change it. This is a very ‘paternalistic’ approach to politics.

 If there is a fair amount of consensus on his social thought, his political views are somewhat more contested and it is easy to find divergent opinions in the literature. On one hand, he has been presented as ‘despotic’ and undemocratic while on the other hand, he has been described as more democratic than socialists of his time. Indeed, his political thoughts were less advanced that the social ones and they were constrained by the epoch he lived in, with an emerging capitalism and an undeveloped antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Thus, according to Ralph Miliband, Owen had really negative views on the workers. He saw them as an ignorant mass, who in their desperation could engulf society in anarchy and chaos. He did not believe in the emancipation of the working class. Rather, he talked about emancipating humanity with a universal union and peace with all men. Hence, his proposals did not want to present any threat to wealth and power. He believed the same order should be maintained and that his proposals were indeed a wall against a revolution. However, there was an important change in his political views in the early 1820s: gradually he started embracing socialist positions. He started believing that the system of private property and the subordination of all human affairs to the drive of profit was also an impediment to social improvement.

In 1800, Robert Owen arrived to the New Lanark mills in Scotland. He started implementing a series of social changes that would bring him fame. In Great Britain, the conditions of the working classes were horrendous: men and kids worked more than fourteen hours per day. In New Lanark, Owen founded infant schools, where children went during the day. Working hours were no longer than 10 and a half hours per day. More impressive: when a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. After a couple of years, the business doubled in value. Owen has been accused of improving the life of his workers but without giving them the means to organise. In fact, he even introduced some forms of democratic management: workers committees elected judges who would rule over infractions committed in the community. Meanwhile, Robert Owen tried to spread his ideas. He made a continental tour to promote himself. He even made a conference in front of the Congress of the USA. At the beginning, he was not seen as an agitator and he was very well received in many circles, but when he started pushing for reforms, he faced the hostility of many rich. On the other hand, he did not believe in the working class leading itself and was also confronted with the growing Trade Union movement.

However, Owenite communities were destined to fail, both as an example of societal organisation and as an instrument of change. The three main reasons of failure were the following. Firstly, the communities were heavily reliant on a paternalistic figure, either the state or a philanthropist. If this figure did not fully commit to the wellbeing of the community, it could not succeed. Indeed, some Owenite communities failed as soon as the philanthropist withdrew. Following this first idea, the second reason why they were destined to fail is because they did not offer enough empowerment to the working class. Workers had some responsibilities, but as Owen did not think they were entitled to govern, he never gave them full responsibilities. These two reasons together show why these communities were destined to fail as a societal organisation. The third reason why this communities were destined to fail, this time as an instrument of change, is because they did not challenge the established political and economic order. Taking terms from Olin Wright, this was a mixture of symbiotic and interstitial transformation. Interstitial because the communities were created at the margin of the system. Symbiotic because a powerful figure was needed to start the process of transformation. Overall, even though New Lanark wanted to change society, it did not present a fundamental challenge to capitalism. Robert Owen cared about conditions of life of the poor, but he never sought to empower them: he always considered the ruler as a major agent of social change and even after heading towards socialism, he did not lose faith in the goodwill of the powerful. Overall, to end on a positive note, I would argue that Owenite communities were the embryo of socialism, a sort of proto-socialism. Hence, as the very first expression of the quest for a new social and economic order, it probabilities of surviving were low, but it set an example and ideas which would be used later on.

To summarise, Robert Owen was a philanthropist and a man ahead of his times in terms of social beliefs. He did not think that poor people were responsible for their condition. Rather, it was the society in which they lived that influenced their behaviour. To eradicate poverty, a ‘New Society’ impulse by a philanthropist or the State should be created. Politically he was more conservative. He did not believe the workers could govern themselves and he saw them as an ignorant mass. His beliefs were a wall against a revolution. In real life, Owen got confronted both with rich people and the Trade Unions. In New Lanark, he improved drastically the life of all the workers with his measures. Overall, however, Owenite communities were destined to fail for three reasons. First, they were heavily reliant on the figure of the philanthropist. Secondly, they did not give any real empowerment to the working class. Thirdly, it did not represent a challenge to the established order. Rather, it was a mixture of symbiotic and interstitial transformation which ultimately was set to fail. It nonetheless laid the grounds for future socialism.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website academia.edu:

https://www.academia.edu/23860668/Why_Owenite_communities_were_destined_to_fail

© Mario Cuenda García